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Villeneuve completes yoyo-like running epic

To most, the feat is pure madness. Run up Grotto Mountain, Mount Lady Macdonald, East End of Mount Rundle and Ha Ling Peak in one day. No bikes, no driving to trail heads, no cash rewards or prizes. Fifty-three kilometres.

To most, the feat is pure madness.

Run up Grotto Mountain, Mount Lady Macdonald, East End of Mount Rundle and Ha Ling Peak in one day. No bikes, no driving to trail heads, no cash rewards or prizes.

Fifty-three kilometres. Four peaks over 2,400 metres high.

On Saturday, Sept. 24, Canmore’s Phil Villeneuve accomplished the feat in 11 hours, four minutes – the fastest known quadruple ascent of Canmore’s four major peaks.

“You look at the four peaks and they look so accessible. Not until I reached the halfway mark did I realize how big of a day it would be.” Villeneuve said.

After considering the route 10 years ago, the idea stuck with the former cross-country ski racer, who had run up Mount Lady Macdonald and Ha Ling Peak previously as part of his Olympic-level training regimens, but never attempted all four in a day. Aware of only three people who have attempted the feat before (Jack Firth, Greg Thazuk and Ernst Salzgeber who finished the challenge at the age of 60), he knew it was a challenge he wanted to tick off his list.

“When I used to live with Will Gadd and Scott Semple, we started talking about it. One or two climbers had done it and it’s always sat in the back of my mind, but I never really had the opportunity to do it, but this year I had a bit of time” Villeneuve said.

So with a free day and a running partner in local doctor/ultramarathoner Andy Reed, Villeneuve decided it was time to attempt the feat. He had never run 53 kilometres before, let alone uphill for most of them.

“I looked at the forecast and made the decision on Thursday to do it. The forecast showed it would be between 21-23 degrees, which I thought was the perfect temperature.”

However the temperature did not hover around a palatable 21 degrees. Instead it soared to an unseasonably high 28 degrees.

“The heat is not a huge factor. I definitely felt it where the wind wasn’t present. But the wind... the wind was a bigger factor.”

Against the elements, he and Reed first sped up Grotto Mountain, the biggest and steepest of the bunch, measuring in at 2,706 metres.

Edging across the knife’s edge ridge that leads to the peak of Mount Lady Macdonald, the winds blew intensely. Villeneuve clung to the cliff with both hands 2,605 metres above the valley bottom.

“That put me out of my comfort zone. With the wind gusts up there I definitely wasn’t used to the exposure.”

He had climbed Lady Mac several times before, but partnering it with the other three peaks made it another experience all together.

“I appreciate those peaks so much more. Lady Mac seems like such an easy hike, but on Saturday it kicked the sh-- out of me,” Villeneuve said.

By the time the duo reached the bottom of Mount Lady Macdonald, and broke for a half-hour lunch, they realized they had taken on a massive challenge.

“Having lunch, we were six hours in and we realized we had only gone 23 kilometres. Andy looked at me and said ‘Wow. It’s going to be a big day,’ ” Villeneuve said.

After stopping for a lunch of ham and cheese tortilla wraps and a litre of ginger ale, next up was the East End of Rundle. Villeneuve had never been up the 2,530 metre scree-ridden slope and soon found his will lagging. The toll of 53 kilometres of running was taking its toll on his body and spirit.

“I should have gone up beforehand. There is a lot of scree up high. At that point, I lost Andy. He called it a day,” Villeneuve said. “On Rundle, I hit a low point. Physically it was tiring.”

Lost on the trail, he ended up bushwhacking his way to the scree slopes and made the summit alone. For every step he took, he slid back half a step on the loose rock and contemplated stopping the attempt at the eight hour mark.

However he pushed through and texted his friend Mike Fitzpatrick to join him on the final leg of the challenge

“He brought me a bottle of Coke, some food and we did Ha Ling,” Villeneuve said.

He saved the easiest summit for last, one that he had previously run up in a ghastly 32 minutes. However the two ran out of water.

“I felt there would be a few more creeks. I had a few drinks from the reservoir at the base, which was probably not a good idea, but we convinced some hikers who where heading down to spare some water,” Villeneuve said.

By the end, just after 7 p.m., he reached his home at the bottom of the valley, exhausted but content with his accomplishment.

“It’s one of those things, we’ve talked about for so long. In my group of peers it’s nice to tick off the list,” he said.

Based on his calculations, he was climbing uphill for five hours, descending for more than three hours and running on flat ground for an hour, forty-five minutes.

Although laid up on his couch two days afterwards, he’s not slowing down. On Saturday, Oct. 1 he plans to compete in the Kaslo Suffer Fest, entering a 50 km ultra trail run, but has no plans to repeat the four peaks attempt.

“I won’t do it again. I’m content to have done it, but now I have some buddies who want to do it. It’s on the radar now, and I’ve set a benchmark for time and route,” Villeneuve said.

Rocky Mountain Outlook

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